You're looking back on that big sale you made. You're picturing the meeting where the customer's people were reviewing your presentation and proposal. You can imagine them asking questions such as: Do they understand us? Can they deliver what they're offering? Are they really committed to making it work?
You're aware that it's hard to convey your commitment in a proposal. You focused on doing it with the presentation—and it paid off. You're now reviewing all the things you did in that presentation so you can do it even better the next time. You see that your tasks can be grouped under five headings.
1. Getting Started
When you get the invitation to present, learn everything you need to know to plan the presentation. Will you be presenting to your client contact or to a group? Who are those other people? (They might be altogether different from the people you've been talking with.) What's their role in the organization? What are their expectations? What's their role in the decision-making process? How will they be affected by what you're proposing? What do they know about you thus far?
Where will you be presenting—in your contact's own office or in a conference room? Will you be standing at the head of the room or sitting with the group around the conference table? (Suggestion: You want to stand because you can project more authority and enthusiasm that way.) What kind of visuals will work best in that setting? How much time do you have?
2. Selecting Your Team
If you're presenting to a group, you should bring as many of your people as there are customer people. You want to match their functions, as well: If their CIO and CFO will attend, for example, you should have yours there, too, if possible.
Don't let them only stand by to answer questions that may require their special knowledge. Make them part of your presentation team instead. Let the CFO talk about the financial implications of your offer. Let the CIO describe how your company will facilitate ordering, inventory control, and related services that are part of your offering package.
3. How You Want to Come Across
Maybe it's not fair, but the sale will depend a lot on whether or not the customer likes you and your team. Many of our decisions are based on our perceptions of people, often subconsciously because we don't want to admit how subjective we are. Once the customer likes you—and that decision often is made within seconds—you'll appear more competent, more trustworthy and what you say will be listened to more closely.
How will the customer make all these judgments about you? With information that comes in through the eyes, as well as the ears. All of us have depended on what we see to learn about others since babyhood and we've been doing it since the time we lived in caves. The way the prospect sees you may be making a more visceral impression than what you're saying.
That means you have to give at least as much attention to the way you hold yourself and move as you give to the wording and organization of your message. Make sure your physical presence projects confidence and the emotional connection you feel for the audience. If you show them you like them, they'll like you back.
Stand tall, move deliberately, and smile. If you're sitting for the presentation, plant your feet on the floor, put your chest out, hold your head high, and lean forward a bit. If you're standing to present, move around with lots of energy and underscore your important points with large-scale but comfortable gestures. These include arm movement all the way from your shoulders, head turns, and facial expressions that show what you're feeling.
Your eyes will be valuable for expressing your feelings and, more than anything else, show that you can be trusted. Look the prospect in the eye, as consistently as you can without causing discomfort. Insecure presenters sometimes find this hard, and it sends a strong signal that they lack self-confidence. The prospect might even assume they're not being straightforward. Academic research into presentations by Communispond's students concluded that use of the eyes affects the success of a presentation more than any other communications skill does.
How you use your voice also counts for a lot. Breathe naturally to keep it secure and steady. If you're presenting to one person, make your voice volume just a little stronger than you would in a conversation. If you're presenting to a group, raise it a good bit above that. In either situation, be certain not to rush your words, a common habit of insecure speakers. Underscore your important points with changes of tone and pace. If you make a pregnant pause, the prospect knows what’s coming up is important.
Presenting this way doesn’t come naturally. There are no born presenters. The skill has to be learned. The good news is that it's easily learned and once you have it down pat, it will serve you well your entire career.
4. Real-World Rehearsal
You can't wing it and make a successful presentation. Like they say about getting to Carnegie Hall, it takes practice, practice, practice.
Start creating your presentation by reviewing your written proposal and writing down what you want to say. Then chop away all the excess verbiage so what remains is crisp and clear and focuses on your main points. Customers have a short attention span these days. For younger customers and particularly for higher-level executives it's even shorter. Don’t distract attention from your main message by going into details. You can cover them, if needed, during the Q&A.
Don't make the mistake of practicing by reading the script to yourself. Instead, match the words you’ll use with the appropriate body movement and vocal changes. After just a few run-throughs like this, you'll be able to toss aside the script and come across like everything you're saying is spontaneous.
Rehearse in a setting that's like the one for the presentation so you can project the right level of energy. If it'll be a sit-down with a single person in his or her own office, come on just a bit stronger than you would in a conversation. If it's a formal presentation to a group in the conference room, be much more dynamic.
For a team presentation, practice presenting as a group. Have each presenter summarize the main points he made and introduce the next speaker. That speaker should link the information that was just presented to what’s coming up next so the customer can easily follow the presentation. Make certain your team members maintain eye contact with the audience instead of talking to the visuals, which often happens with untrained speakers.
Invite an audience to your rehearsals so you can get feedback on how you're coming across. Encourage the audience to ask you tough questions. Prepare concise, persuasive answers to those you're likely to be asked and finish each one by tying back to one of your main points. A masterly managed Q&A can become one of the strongest parts of your presentation.
The more you rehearse, the better you'll be. A study of presentations made during Communispond classes showed the effectiveness of presentations increased by 42 percent between the first practice session and the last one.
5. Keep Your Eye on the Customer
Your presentation is humming along just the way you rehearsed it. Don't follow your plan blindly, though. Keep reading the audience to see how they're reacting and be ready to make any needed adjustments. You may sense, for example, that the audience's attention is wandering. Rather than barrel on, stop and shake things up, perhaps by asking a question.
Maybe you see puzzled expressions that signal they don't understand what you're saying. Explain it another way, maybe with an example or an analogy. Do they seem particularly interested in one of the points being made? Tell them more about it.
Summing It Up
Your next presentation will be even better than the last one. It will include five essential elements: Get all the information you need so you can do proper planning. Put together a powerful presentation team. Know how to make an emotional connection with the audience. Practice, practice, practice. As you present, be ready to make any needed adjustments.
Bill Rosenthal is CEO of Communispond Inc., which provides training in sales, presentations, and other aspects of communications. Now celebrating its 40th year, the company has trained more than 600,000 persons to communicate with clarity and power. Its training programs include Socratic Selling Skills, Executive Presentation Skills, and Write Up Front. These programs are offered in standard and custom forms delivered by its instructors or licensed instructors and in public seminars. Go to www.communispond.com for access to free articles, videocasts, and audiocasts on successful selling and to receive its weekly sales e-newsletter, The connection. Contact Bill Rosenthal at firstname.lastname@example.org.